My Grandpa Koebel died this morning. It's a sad day but, unfortunately, not unexpected – the culmination of a week of rapid decline. I wrote the note below last Sunday, a day after visiting the hospital and just before he was transferred to Hospice care.
The world feels a little darker today. But I take joy in knowing that the influences Grandpa had on my life and the fond memories he helped create will eventually wash away my tears and bring a little light into my most difficult days.
Yesterday, I said good-bye to my grandfather for the last time. It’s only a matter of days, maybe hours, before the tumors and lesions that have overtaken his body, brain and lucidity finally overpower his ability to survive.
As we often do when the death of a loved one is imminent, we turn to our shared and individual memories. It’s a way to celebrate a life well-lived, and also to ease our own pain and sadness. For me, it always comes back to one story from my youth. It’s actually pretty boring, but I know why it has always stuck. To me, it’s a very simple demonstration of who Grandpa is and how I will always remember him…
In my early teen years, I earned a little spending money mowing the lawn of Mrs. Smith, the sweet old lady who lived directly across the street from Grandma and Grandpa. It was a pretty sweet gig for an adolescent – $10 and I sometimes earned a delicious sandwich and lemonade for my efforts!
One year, it was my birthday (in June) and I had just crawled out of bed. It was about 7:30 a.m. I was curled up on the couch, watching television and enjoying a bowl of sugary cereal, looking forward to a leisure-filled day involving nothing more than my butt glued to a couch or lawn chair.
Just as I was getting comfortable, I heard the back door swing open and, before I could react, Grandpa came bounding into the den, full of early morning energy.
Happy birthday, Grandson,” he hollered. “Now let’s get moving. Mrs. Smith’s lawn isn’t going to mow itself!”
And, with that, I was on my way to Clinton Street, my leisure-filled birthday over before it even began.
As I mentioned, in the grand scheme of things, it’s a throwaway story, something most people would forget about in a week. But, I know why it clings to my mind. It showed me the kind of person my grandfather has always been.
He’s selfless. You see, that day, birthday or not, was never about me. I could sit around doing a whole bunch of nothing anytime. No, it was about his neighbor, someone who had a need she couldn’t fulfill on her own. What I may not have realized then, but can appreciate now, is that Grandpa was instilling in me his values of always putting the needs of others ahead of your own. It’s how he lived his whole life.
He served his country. Grandpa is a charter member of the Greatest Generation. He sailed the South Pacific on the U.S.S. Enterprise at the tail end of World War II, doing his own small part to protect the world from tyranny and oppression.
He committed himself to his community. Grandpa chose a career as a firefighter, putting his own health and safety at risk to protect the lives and property of his fellow Fremonters. Even as heart troubles began to plague him in late middle age, he carried on, battling blazes until age finally caught up, easing him into retirement.
He served local youth. For years, Grandpa drove the Bookmobile. For those outside my generation or living outside Sandusky County, the Bookmobile was a giant blue bus retrofitted as a traveling book repository, offering Birchard Public Library’s finest literature to the school-age kids around the county who might not be able to access it otherwise. I was always proud to tell my classmates that the bald guy with the mustache sitting in the driver’s seat was my granddad.
I could go on and. Those are just a few of the big things, and Grandpa’s attention for others extended far beyond his work. Where did the kids typically stay when Mom and Dad went on a grown-ups' vacation? Clinton Street. Who was the first call when you needed a ride? Grandpa. Who was front and center at almost every ballgame – sometimes cheering, oftentimes pacing nervously if one of the grandkids was in the game? You guessed it.
Even as death became a certainty late last week, he made sure loved ones from Fremont and Toledo and Akron and Pittsburgh and Dayton could all converge on his hospital room for one more visit before he left us. He’s stubbornly hung on well beyond the doctors’ expectations, giving us all a chance to say hello (and good-bye) one final time. I know he’s not sticking around for himself – he’s never been real comfortable as the center of attention. But he had to make sure we would have some comfort and peace of mind at the end.
So, have a safe trip to the other side Grandpa Koebel. You inspired me to do good unto others before myself. I know we’ll one day meet again and, until we do, I’ll hold onto the memories to remind myself that you may be gone, but you’ll never be far away.
- Vincent G. Koebel Obituary
- Tribute Video
- Vincent G. Koebel Obituary
- Tribute Video